This story appears in the April 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
A 36-year-old man walks into a major league clubhouse for the spring's first full-squad workout wearing black, acid-washed jeans and a yellow belt. The jeans are cuffed above the ankle to show off multicolored, striped socks and suede high-top sneakers. He sports a jacket to match the jeans, a black cap turned backward and sunglasses that Elton John might call gaudy.
The man is a global icon, a one-name phenomenon. Yet when Ichiro wears this getup in the Mariners' locker room in Peoria, Ariz., no one bats an eye. Well, almost no one. Ken Griffey Jr., the team's 40-year-old elder statesman, notices a sportswriter shaking his head. Griffey musters a straight face and says, "Well, the socks you can wear with anything. And ... it's still better than what you're wearing." Listening in at the locker next to Ichiro's, free agent pickup Chone Figgins cracks a smile. A few feet away, the oft-surly Milton Bradley looks amused. Across the clubhouse, pitcher Cliff Lee, Seattle's biggest off-season acquisition, can't help but chuckle.
Much like Ichiro's outfit, the Mariners are a colorful, nontraditional bunch. Unique, even. In 2009 they became the first MLB team to win at least 85 games while being outscored by 50 or more runs. So what did team execs do during the off-season? They let their top home run hitter walk and plunged even deeper into their hard-core strategy: pitching and defense to the max. Yes, the 2010 Mariners have been built in a way that can only be described as ... extreme.